How much is Josh Norman worth? And which teams should go after him?

Sam Monson looks at just how good the former Carolina CB is, and which teams should pursue him in free agency.

| 6 months ago
(Chris Keane/AP Images for Panini)

(Chris Keane/AP Images for Panini)

How much is Josh Norman worth? And which teams should go after him?

Josh Norman, one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, just hit the open market. In an unusual move, the Panthers have rescinded the franchise tag on him after coming to the belief that the team and his agent are so far apart on terms that no long-term deal was remotely viable, making him immediately available to the highest bidder.

The highest bidder better get the checkbook ready, because from the sounds of it Norman is looking for some serious bank.

But just how good is Josh Norman, and is he worth the dollars he’s chasing?

Norman ended the 2015 season having allowed a passer rating of 54.0, the best mark in the NFL. For much of the season opposing quarterbacks actually had a better passer rating just throwing the ball into the turf than actually targeting Norman.

When you include the playoffs, he had the highest coverage grade in the NFL, and ended the season as strong as he began it with fine outings in the playoffs, only for the team to come up short in the Super Bowl. Norman actually didn’t give up a reception at all in the Super Bowl, despite being targeted four times.

Counting the Super Bowl, there were 10 games this season in which Norman allowed two or fewer catches. He wasn’t beaten for a catch longer than 36 yards all season long, 19 games of it.

Norman’s coverage numbers were excellent a season ago, and if anything they were even better this year, taking the step into the true shutdown corner realm that demands a big time contract.

There were hiccups to his play, however. His overall season was fantastic, but there was a six-week stretch to end the season that was average at best. His worst game of the season came against Odell Beckham Jr., and while that game will be remembered for Norman and Beckham losing their discipline entirely and concentrating more on scuffling with each other than playing football, by the time things really went south Norman had already been beaten badly on a deep pass that Beckham dropped.

Norman did seem to struggle against the speed of Beckham before that game became a farce.

That being said, that’s one game against one of the league’s best receivers. Just look at how Norman did against some of the other top players in the game last season:

–Held DeAndre Hopkins to 2 catches for 24 yards on 7 targets

–Held Vincent Jackson to 2 catches for 31 yards on 6 targets, picking off one pass.

–Held Mike Evans to 1 catch for 15 yards on 5 targets in the other meeting with the Bucs.

–Held T.Y. Hilton to 1 catch for 15 yards on 3 targets, breaking up the other 2.

–Held Dez Bryant to 1 catch for 6 yards on 5 targets.

–Held Julio Jones to 9 catches for 113 yards across 2 games (half Jones’ per-game average).

Norman may not be perfect, but last season was about as close to shutdown play as cornerback play gets in today’s NFL.

So which teams should be picking up the phone and moving money around as we speak?

Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jags somehow still have money to burn, with around $53 million in cap space, and their best corner is Davon House. Norman would represent a monster signing for the team, which has shown willing as recently as a month ago to overpay in order to snag a key target.

San Francisco 49ers: New head coach Chip Kelly may not have personnel control in San Francisco like he did in Philadelphia, but the 49ers could emulate his big splash at corner from last season — Byron Maxwell — but on a far more accomplished player this time in Norman. The 49ers have the cap space, and their best corner is Tramaine Brock. This is a side that would be massively upgraded by Norman coming on board.

Tennessee Titans: The Titans took themselves out of the running for Jalen Ramsey when they traded away the top pick of the draft, but they could get a better corner in Norman and still have their trade bounty. OK, it would cost them a heck of a lot more in contract terms, but this is a team that still has the cap space to make it work, and would represent a massive offseason coup if they could pull it off, immediately giving them a talented defense to support second-year QB Marcus Mariota.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • Lakereric


    • travisolle

      Not enough money they only have between 9-12 million left and they still need to pay rookie salaries.

      • Johnny Rotten

        Back load the contract. Next year Raiders are projected to have $50M in cap space. The money is there. I’d grab the highest paid players on the team like Hudson, Howard, Crabtree, Osemele, Irvin, and Smith and ask them if they want this team to be good or do they want to be great. See if they’d each take a small pay cut. $2M a piece would clear $12M. Most likely won’t happen but I can dream.

        • travisolle

          I don’t think it’s really fair to ask those guys to take a pay cut on deals that are that new, even if it helps the team I just don’t think it’s fair. Plus with back loading you run the risk of ruining your future, which the Raiders have a very bright future and with the Raiders’ current salary cap they would really have to back load that contract in order to get him and still sign in-coming rookies. Like he wants a 5 year deal worth $16M a year they would only be able to pay him at most $6M this year so they could end up paying him as much as $26M nest year and then $16M over the three years after that. That seems like it would really hurt the team more than it would help, cause it would just make it that much harder to re-sign draft picks and bring in quality FA.

          • Johnny Rotten

            The way I look at is we didn’t have any great draft picks in 2012 or 2013. Norman was a 2012 draft pick and if we had drafted him it’s like we’re giving him his extension right now. He’d be worth it.

            I’m not saying offer Norman exactly what he wants. Just make a competitive offer. Also back loading one contract is not going to destroy our future. Reggie has done a good job of putting us in good cap situations every year by doing the contracts the right way. This would be the time to take a small risk back loading a contract but I think it can be done in a way that doesn’t hurt us long term. We’re projected to have $58M in cap space in 2017. So this year Norman would get paid small guaranteed money. Next year when more money is available the big guaranteed money kicks in being paid out in years 2 and 3. So all guaranteed money gets paid out in the first 3 years and no guaranteed money in the final years. If that makes sense.

            What if we gave him close to what he wants like $15M a year for 4 years? $60M total with $40M guaranteed. $5M guaranteed the first year. Next 2 years he gets $17.5M per year fully guaranteed giving him his $40M over the first 3 years. The final year he would be owed $20M but it’s not guaranteed so you can cut him, trade, or ask for pay cut. If you cut him after 3 years it’s essentially a 3 $40M contract which is roughly $13.3M a year. That’s a simplistic example but that’s basically how some teams back load contracts. Plus keep in mind we have veteran players who’s contracts are up in 2-3 years so more money will get freed up when it’s time for extensions for the young guys.

          • McGeorge

            Norman is 29, not 25, and this is his first great year.
            How likely is it that he has another year like this when he is 31,32?
            He may be worth 15MM for 2016. Or he may regress and be pretty good, but not amazing. Then you are overpaying 3-5MM.
            And the following year, and the year after that.

            If it was a 3 year 36MM contract, then I’d say OK.
            The other thing about cap space is you dont have to use it. You can roll it forward (as long as you meet the minimum), and save it for players who are going to cost a lot like Carr and Mack.

        • Spaceman Spiff

          Still not even close to enough money when considering the signing bonus. The question is, why did the Panthers wait so long to do this? They couldve used that money in free agency that they had set aside for Norman but now all of his potential replacements have been signed. Seems odd to me..

          • McGeorge

            The Panthers waited out free agency. Now all of Normans landing spots are gone. How many teams still have the cap space to sign him, compared with the start of free agency.
            Norman may be forced to accept 12MM/year and maybe the Panthers are willing to do that.
            The Panthers couldn’t negotiate with him, but if he shops himself and sees the market has dropped, he has little choice.

            He’d have been better off signing the tender.

          • Spaceman Spiff

            Yea good point, I didnt think about the other side of it. Interesting move, curious to see what happens here.

        • Samuel Charles

          the raiders don’t really have caproom going forward, they’re about to have 3 of the highest paid players in the league.. khalil, carr, cooper.. plus g jackson, latavius, jelly, walford and hopefully m edwards, etc — after adding all those fa’s, would leave them with no flexibility..

          he wants lon-term franchis qb money — would be ‘not smart’ — and reggie won’t do it anyway..

          ps he’s a slow cb, who turns 29 this yr, and he wants a really long deal that he can retire on…besides, do you really want a guy willing to play for cash for bad franchises over a sb team


          backloaded contracts are what reggie was cleaning up for his first few years… makes zero sense..

    • netti


  • netti

    Free agents ain’t free

    • DaStrongSKRAWN


  • Malachi

    if j-ville got norman and drafted ramsey… man, that’d be an excellent overhaul

  • Mandax

    Uh, that looks like about $200+ worth. Shouldn’t there be a $100 bill on the outside of that pile? I’ve got that much money in my sock.

  • JudoPrince

    From the Panthers standpoint, this had to be about the guaranteed money. I’m guessing Josh Norman wanted 40m plus in guaranteed money and the Panthers were likely not willing to go much higher than 30m, Considering Norman is entering his age 29 season, it’s logical that the Panthers did not want to have an aging CB taking up eight figures of cap space a few years from now as his productivity wanes.

    Keep in mind Norman was a 5th round pick who developed into a top notch player 2 seasons ago. The way the Panthers see it, they will get a compensatory pick (2017) higher then where Norman was drafted and have a track record of turning no-name players into solid contributors. They believe they can find an effective replacement.